Egyptian reactions to Turkey’s suspension of diplomatic relations with Israel

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Saturday 3 Sep 2011

Overwhelming support has met Turkey's move to expel the Israeli ambassador from Ankara, while some wonder why Egypt isn't doing the same

Ahmed Davutoglu
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a news conference in Ankara (Reuters)

A UN report issued this week on the Freedom Flotilla incident, where Israel boarded an aid ship bound for Gaza and killed a number of activists, prompted Turkey to suspend relations with Tel Aviv. Turkey’s move caught much public attention in Egypt, due to recent events that occurred in Sinai where five Egyptian soldiers were killed by Israeli forces.

Since the border incident two weeks ago, protests have been sustained at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Egypt and/or withdrawing the Egyptian ambassador from Israel in response to the killing of the soldiers. Several political forces in Egypt also called for suspending relations with Israel in response to the killings.

The flotilla incident, which took place in spring of last year, involved clashes between Israeli forces and the Turkish aid flotilla Mavi Marmara, which resulted in the death of nine Turkish activists by Israeli fire. Israel, for its part, refused to apologise for the deaths, claiming its actions were in self-defence. Tension loomed over Turkish-Israeli relations ever since, but it was not until yesterday that ties were formally cut off upon the release of a UN report on the incident.

After Turkey’s move, debate was stirred over the similarities between the incidents affecting Egypt and Turkey, and the differences in outcomes. As a variation on its response to Turkey, Israel expressed regret over the death of the Egyptian soldiers, but offered no apology.

Some political analysts linked the situations together, attributing Turkey’s escalation to feeling discomfort over of Israel expressing regret for the deaths of the five soldiers on the Egyptian border, while refusing to apologise, or even express regret, over the attack on the flotilla.

Some among Egypt's possible presidential candidates gave their response to Turkey’s escalation and what they think about Egypt doing the same.

Amr Moussa, former secretary general of the Arab League and a possible presidential candidate, wrote on his Twitter account that Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador “came at the right timing.” He also insinuated that Egypt should follow Turkey’s lead when he wrote "I think that Egyptian diplomacy should recall Egypt's ambassador in Tel Aviv until Israel apologises for penetrating the Egyptian border and killing Egyptian soldiers.”

Also, Ayman Nour, head of Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party and another possible candidate for the presidency, told Egyptian Newspaper Al-Dostour, that “despite the presence of strategic cooperation between Turkey and Israel, the Turkish decision in this situation was biased towards principles and not interests.” Nour also expressed his hope that post-revolution Egypt should study Turkey’s example concerning its internal and external affairs.

Another possible candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi, head of Al-Karama (Dignity) Party, told Al-Dostour that “the Turkish stance of expelling the Israeli ambassador and freezing military agreements with the Zionist entity is a victory for national honour and an expression of a foreign policy that [defends] the interests of the state and rejects the policy of arrogance and humiliation of Zionism.”

Sabahi also asserted that what happened is a “firm response against the Zionist stance,” and that the Turkish position is “a clear lesson of the Arab regimes, which always argue that taking such a firm stance against the arrogant racist Zionist policies could lead to war with Israel.”

On the other hand, some question whether if it would be beneficial for Egypt to escalate tensions with Israel. Emad Gad, a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper that the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Ankara “will not mean anything, while if Egypt expels the Israeli ambassador, it would strain relations and prompt the mobilisation of military forces on the border.”

Other Egyptian responses to Turkey’s escalation were supportive of the move. The Muslim Brotherhood released on its official website a briefing from the International Forum for Islamic Parliamentarians on the expulsion. The briefing stated that “the Forum values the step taken by the Turkish government to expel the ambassador of the Zionist entity, suspend joint military agreements and reduce the level of diplomatic representation with the entity, in response to a United Nations report on criminal practices undertaken by the Zionist occupation forces against the 'Freedom Flotilla' in May of 2010.”

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